To say it’s been a bad month for Northampton head coach Jim Mallinder is an understatement.

An investigation into George North’s latest concussion, club captain Dylan Hartley’s 6 minute cameo against Leinster ending in a red card, his subsequent 6 week suspension, 4 losses on the trot, and a record European defeat to Leinster in Dublin rounds off a pretty miserable December for the Aviva Premiership club.

To make matters even worse, there’s still a chance that Northampton will face further investigations for fielding a weakened team in the return leg against Leinster in the Aviva Stadium. A bit harsh perhaps considering it’s a tradition started by French clubs whom have never been punished for it, but it would be typical of the month Mallinder is having.

Northampton now look set to finish at the bottom of Pool 4 with only 1 win out of 4 games, registering a -106 points difference with two games still left to play. A disappointing situation for the club, with Zebre’s -182 sum the only thing to save them from the bottom of the cumulative table.

Domestically, the Saints sit in 9th position of the Aviva Premiership table with only 4 wins out of 10 games. They’ve beaten Gloucester & Exeter in Franklin’s Gardens while winning on the road to bottom ranked sides Worcester Warriors and Bristol Rugby. Now out of Europe, they can turn full attention to moving into the upper echelons of that Premiership table and regaining some momentum from what has been a disappointing campaign thus far.

On Friday evening Northampton welcome Sale Sharks to Franklin Garden’s in a must win game. Anything other than a convincing win for the home side will only add to the mounting pressure on both the coaching ticket & players themselves, as they hope to end the year on a positive note & put a miserable December in the past.